Focus changes to 3D

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2011 is set to be a tough year for the imaging sector, but the continuing popularity of social networking sites, the rise of pocket camcorders and the introduction of 3D will help retailers to boost profits. Libby Plummer reports.

The camera and camcorder market has seen some significant changes over the past year, largely influenced by the continued rise in social networking as well as the introduction of 3D-capable products. Firstly, this report will look at digital still cameras. Giving an overview of the current market, GfK’s Richard Gregory explains: “There is no hiding from the fact that 2011 will be a tough year for consumers as well as manufacturers and retailers. The electronics industry will need to work hard to prise any available cash from hard up customers.

“Within the photo and digital capture markets there are some sectors that continue to grow on the back of innovation and increased features.

“Total still camera volumes fell 2.7% in 2010, this was mainly driven by the fixed lens area which dropped 3.8%. Growth did occur in the changeable lens segment (+11.3%) as DSLR and the entry level Compact System Cameras (CSC) delivered a boost, not only for volumes but also for value.

“Fixed lens products do account for over 90% of the total market volume and the main areas which suffered were the lower end products hit by historical penetration and the increasing capabilities of smart phones. Premium sectors and particularly Super Zoom (over10x optical zoom) are the areas bringing any growth”.

Social networking

The continuing rise of social networking sites as well as photo-sharing sites such as Flickr has had a huge impact on the number of photos people take and how they share them. Thanks to the large capacity and flexibility offered by memory cards, consumers are now able to take large numbers of photos at a time and tend to use their cameras more often than they did when using film. As well as boosting camera use, these sites have also had an influence on actual camera design.

As Fujifilm’s senior business manager for digital cameras, Theo Georghiades puts it: “The growth of photo and video sharing sites such as YouTube and Facebook has introduced a new range of consumers to the joys of taking and sharing photos.

“Manufacturers have embraced this change and integrated social media compatibility into cameras, allowing consumers to easily upload their images to these sites. One of Fujifilm’s cameras with this function is the stylish Z90. Consumers can simply mark their chosen photos for Facebook or YouTube then, when connected to a computer, the provided software makes it easy to upload to the sites in one click”.

The third dimension

Encouraged by the slow but sure progress of the 3D TV market, the camera sector is gradually making its way into 3D territory. John Mitchell, product manager for Lumix G at Panasonic, comments: “For Panasonic, the latest trend is 3D and last year saw us launch the world’s first interchangeable 3D lens for use with our Lumix G camera system. We also offer 3D photo modes on our latest Lumix compact cameras including the latest travel zoom camera, the Lumix TZ20”.

In 2009, Fujifilm launched the FinePix W1 – the first consumer camera with the ability to digitally capture 3D stereoscopic images. Last year, the manufacturer launched its second-generation 3D snapper in the form of the W3. It’s an interesting innovation, but it will probably be a while before 3D-capable cameras really tap into the mainstream market. As Fujifilm’s Georghiades explains: “It’s still early days for the format but Fuji believes the rapid growth in sales of 3D TVs and other devices will allow the W3 to appeal to a growing pool of consumers wanting to make their own real 3D content”.

Bridge cameras (also known as hybrid models) continue to grow in popularity as consumers look for high-end performance but without the hassle of a heavy and relatively expensive DSLR model. Many manufacturers now offer models of this kind, including Samsung’s NX11, and FujiFilm’s FinePix HS20EXR.

Camcorders

Overall, the fortunes of the camcorder sector have seen a similar performance to the camera market. Although there has been a reasonable growth in HD-toting traditional camcorders, the most impact has come from the exponential increase in popularity of pocket camcorders, says GfK’s Richard Gregory.

Just like the camera sector, the camcorder sector has been largely influenced by online social networking sites, accounting for the increase in pocket cams, as well the rise in models with direct uploading capability.

Nick White, Samsung UK’s head of digital imaging, comments: “We’ve the seen the trend for sharing videos on social networking sites as well as the rise of citizen journalism help drive the popularity of video. As consumers demand more flexibility for how and where they share their videos, wireless camcorders are especially popular as they allow users to email and upload photos or videos directly to social networking websites, PCs and TVs without needing to connect to a PC”.

Shooting from the hip

More and more companies are now joining the pocket camcorder market, which was largely pioneered by Flip Video. Somewhat ironically, and despite being the market leader, parent company Cisco recently decidedly to kill off the Flip Video brand, much to the surprise of the industry. At the time of writing, Cisco was remaining tight-lipped about the precise reasons for the sudden news, but for the time-being at least it leaves the way clear for rival brands to gain some ground.

Most of the big brands offer pocket cam models, with more joining the sector all the time. The latest manufacturer to introduce a pocket cam is Toshiba which recently announced its first ‘candybar’ style model in the form of the Camileo B10 (see Products to Watch, p31).

Consumers’ desire to have a portable camcorder that’s easy to use has driven a lot of sales away from traditional camcorders, which tend to be slightly larger than their pocket-friendly siblings. The market has also been influenced by enhanced video capability on the latest smartphones. Paul Hicks, business development manager for digital products at Toshiba, argues that despite the popularity of video-capable phones, there is still a place for camcorders, commenting: “Although video recording on mobile phones is becoming increasingly popular, the quality of the shot is still inferior when compared to camcorders due to lens size. The desire for higher quality video recording in a compact and portable device has led to a rise in demand for pocket-sized camcorders, which offer outstanding picture quality in a small, easy to carry device”.

In fact, many argue that improving video features on mobile phones has actually given the camcorder market a significant boost. Samsung’s Nick White explains: “The addition of filming capabilities to cameras and mobile phones has acted as a catalyst, driving consumers’ renewed interest in home movies and filming. The popularity of video has in turn widened the market for camcorders and there is definitely space in the market for them to exist alongside cameras with video recording capabilities and mobile phones, with camcorders ultimately offering the benefit of storage space for large numbers of videos on a device that’s been designed exclusively for video use”.

Shooting in 3D

One of the biggest innovations to hit the camcorder sector is the introduction of 3D-capable models, fuelled by the increase in 3D TVs and broadcasting services. The technology is still relatively new, but could it be the ‘next big thing’ for camcorders? Samsung’s Nick White thinks that it certainly has the potential to succeed.

“As we can see from our TV business, 3D technology has been a huge and rapidly growing success. However, in terms of people wanting to film their own 3D footage (rather than watch what’s made for them), it’s still early days. Its popularity hasn’t yet had a huge impact on the camera and camcorder market, but we expect that to change once consumers start wanting to take and view their images and video in 3D on their 3D TVs and monitors. In the same way that HD has revolutionised the film and TV market¸3D has the potential to have the same effect.”

In 2010, Panasonic launched the world’s first consumer 3D camcorder in the shape of the HDC-SDT750. Since then, it has launched five new 3D-compatible models that can be used with the optional VW-CLT1 3D lens.

JVC also recently entered the third dimension when it launched its GS-TD1 camcorder which sports a glasses-free 3D display so that user can watch their footage back in 3D. The maker also launched its GZ-HM960 which records in 2D but converts to 3D once hooked up to a compatible TV (it also includes the same 3D-capable display as the GS-TS1).

Sony has also joined the 3D world, with the launch of its HDR-TD10 and the first 3D pocket camcorder (see Products to Watch).

Indie opportunities

Most large imaging brands have nationwide networks of sales teams that support independent stores, while many also invest heavily in indie-specific marketing, in-store displays and training programmes for staff. Panasonic also offers an exclusive free three-year warranty on all Lumix G cameras in Lumix G specialist stores.

The imaging sector provides strong opportunities for making add-on sales and the range of goods on offer is vast. As GfK’s Richard Gregory puts it: “In both categories (cameras and camcorders) there are great gains to be made on high margin accessories – bags, tripods and memory cards are all essential add on purchases”.

That’s why it’s essential to talk about accessories when it comes to making the sale, as most cameras and camcorders need some sort of add-on, whether it’s an essential such as a memory card or an optional product, like a home photo printer.

Sales tips

• Ask the customer how/when they intend to use the product.

• Establish the customer’s budget.

• Ensure that sales staff have had the necessary training and a chance to get to know the products.

• Demo HD capability using an HDTV panel, and demo 3D products with a 3D panel.

• Demo cameras and camcorders with related products such as laptops and digital photo frames.

• Don’t forget accessories such as camera bags, lens and photo printers.

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